He Knew Everything About Everyone, but Is Veiled in Mystery

Eamon Javers pieces together the life of Tom Corbally
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 8, 2017 8:35 AM CDT
Updated Sep 10, 2017 6:32 AM CDT
He Knew Everything About Everyone, but Is Veiled in Mystery
Tom Corbally in 'Look' magazine in 1961.   (Library of Congress)

"Nobody ever learned everything about Tom Corbally," Eamon Javers writes at Buzzfeed. He should know. Despite a 10,000–word feature on the man with many titles—private investigator, spy, con man, socialite—Javers notes Corbally will always remain somewhat of a mystery because he "bluffed and intrigued his way through decades." He led an eventful life even as a youth. In the late 1920s at age 6 or 7, he was kidnapped, a consequence of his father failing to repay a debt. His family, which operated a private investigative firm visited by mobsters and politicians, ensured he was returned home safe. Later, Corbally would be caught as a stowaway on cruise liners at least three times. It was the "perfect entry-level con for a lifelong con man," Javers writes.

At age 22 he managed the "nearly impossible" feat of getting discharged from military service in the heart of World War II due to bad behavior. He next turned up as a US spy in postwar Germany. Returning stateside, Corbally—tall, well-dressed, and a hit with the ladies—put his spy skills to good use as an investigator. Rubbing elbows with movie stars and presidents—including future president Donald Trump—he gathered information on America's elite and sold it for huge fees. The FBI suspected he also made money through insurance fraud and channeling mob money to Swiss banks. But he was forever enigmatic. Case in point: His death in 2004 at age 83 led to "an unsolved mystery" in the shape of a packet of coffee creamer, a fake British passport, and a key, the only items in a safe deposit box he had in London, Javers writes. More on that here. (More Longform stories.)

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